One of the incentives to walking in Provence is the prospect of finding goodies along the way, a handful of rocket leaves to jazz up a salad, say, or white mulberries from the trees whose leaves once provided sustenance to insatiable silk worms, the basis of many people’s livelihoods here in the late nineteenth century. With summer come more substantial pickings, wild pears and figs and, later on, plums.
A recent discovery was a stray damson tree which we re-visited two or three times. Some of the plums we ate as they were, some got popped into jam pots after fast boiling with sugar, and some got baked as follows, according to Elizabeth David’s recommendations in French Provincial Cooking.
The fruit doesn’t need to be ripe: the amount of sugar can be increased if necessary, along with the cooking time.
To have vanilla sugar to hand, simply keep some sugar in a jar with a vanilla pod. The latter will perform for years and provide a much more subtle perfume than vanilla essence.
Kirsch can apparently replace 2–3 tbsp of water quite successfully (any comments on this would be interesting).
• 1 kg plums of any type
• 4½–6 tbsp vanilla sugar or sugar + a vanilla pod
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 3/170°C.
Wash the fruit and make an incision in each one along the natural divide.
Arrange in a pyramid in a baking dish, says Elizabeth David, but it works perfectly well with the fruit quite tightly packed in a single layer.
Sprinkle with up to 6 tbsp sugar, depending on the fruit, and up to 5 tbsp water (less if very ripe plums) or water and kirsch.
Bake until fruit is soft but has not lost it shape, 30 min – 1 h, and serve hot or at room temperature, in which case a sorbet goes well.